After World War II, Italian Gino Bartali went a record 10 years between his two wins while Swiss riders won the last two races in 1950 and 1951 before the race became televised.
French saddle jockey Louison Bobet became the first person to win a hat-trick of races in 1953, 1954, and 1955 with compatriot Jacques Anquetil taking up the charge with five victories between 1957 and 1964.
The charismatic Anquetil, who once claimed his training consisted of "a few whiskies, blonde cigarettes and a woman", was a contemporary and friend of Tom Simpson - the first English rider to join the cycling elite.
In 1962 Simpson became the first Englishman to wear the yellow jersey, finishing sixth overall. Simpson won Milan-San Remo in 1964, and became World Road Race Championship in 1965, blazing a trail for other British cyclists to follow.
But his tilt at the 1967 race would end in tragedy: Simpson died on the climb up Mont Ventoux, where a monument still stands in his memory.
Amphetamines were found in Simpson's body in a post-mortem - and drug testing was introduced to the race the following year.
Soon a new hero would dominate the Tour. Belgian Eddy Merckx began his reign with a stunning victory by more than 17 minutes in 1969.
"The Cannibal" would go on to win five Tours with some staggering statistics. He won 34 Tour stages overall, five Giros, one Vuelta a Espana, three World Road Race Championships, Milan-San Remo seven times, Liege-Bastogne-Liege five times - a period of almost total domination of the sport.
But Frenchman Bernard Thevenet unseated the great Merckx in 1975 and he also triumphed in the 1977 edition before another French legend Bernard Hinault, "le blaireau" (the badger), had a golden spell through to 1984.
When Laurent Fignon and Greg LeMond started duelling for victory, another magical period materialised with the American's staggering ride to overhaul Fignon in 1989's final stage the highlight.
Add in Irishman Stephen Roche's exceptional 1987 triumph, in a Triple Crown year that also included Giro d'Italia and World Cycling Championship wins, plus the effortless Spaniard Pedro Delgado, and the late 1980s throw up a host of legendary names.
The relentless Spaniard Miguel Indurain catapulted into the sport's consciousness with five straight wins from 1991, due in part to his astonishingly low heart rate and unrivalled talent in the mountains to foil the famous PDM team.
Bjarne Riis's tainted 1996 win and the tragic story of 1998 victor Marco Pantani, who died of a drug overdose several years later, lent Le Tour a somewhat maudlin air until the arrival of Lance Armstrong.
The American's fairytale rise after he suffered a testicular cancer setback inspired not just cycling fans, but people worldwide, with his seven consecutive wins from 1999.
2006 winner Floyd Landis was stripped of his title, after failing a drugs test, and both the 2007 and 2008 editions were dogged by similar doping scandals.
In 2009, a developing rivalry between Astana team-mates Alberto Contador and Armstrong was unceremoniously ended by the vastly talented Spaniard.
Armstrong had insisted before the race he would ride for Contador but, to no-one's great surprise, that changed once the race began, Contador crushing Armstrong and his other rivals in the mountains.
Briton Bradley Wiggins finished a very creditable fourth, equalling Robert Millar's effort in 1984, leaving Isle of Man sprinter Mark Cavendish to bag a stunning six stages wins overall.
Cavendish again underlined his cycling credentials in 2010, winning five stages to take his total career stage wins to 15, more than any other British rider in history.
But the 2010 Tour was all about the battle for the yellow jersey between Alberto Contador and young Luxemburger Andy Schleck.
Schleck led the standings until Stage 15, when he threw his chain, leading to a delay which Contador controversially capitalised upon.
The Spaniard never relinquished the yellow jersey thereafter, impressively winning his third Tour out of three.
But controversy reigned once again soon after, as Contador was stripped of his 2010 title after testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol.
That meant Andy Schleck inherited the title, and the Luxemburger was favourite for the 2011 yellow jersey too.
However, 35-year-old Australian Cadel Evans surprised many by taking the title in Paris, thereby becoming the oldest post-war winner of the Tour in the process.
To cap a fine 2011 race, Britain's Mark Cavendish crowned his rise to the top of the sport by winning the green jersey at the fourth time of asking, having amassed an astonishing 20 career stage victories by the time the peloton reached the Champs Elysees.
2012 was a year for the Brits - with Sir Bradley Wiggins making history, becoming the first British rider to win the Tour de France in one of the most dominant team performances of recent years.
Wiggins' team-mate Chris Froome finished second as Team Sky controlled the race from start to finish.
There were seven stage wins for British riders in all, including Mark Cavendish's fourth consecutive sprint win on the Champs-Elysees.
Four different members of Britain's Olympic Road Race won stages: Wiggins, Cavendish, Chris Froome and David Millar.
Click here for the History of the Tour de France: 1903-1950